rowing up in South Florida, Rebecca Rechtszaid dreamed of becoming a professional singer, but after a case of pneumonia wrecked her vocal range in college, she settled for the next-best thing.
She couldn’t be an artist, but she could become a lawyer for artists.
“I figured I’d go to law school and I’d try to help musicians because even if I didn’t have my own voice, I could help them find theirs,” said Rechtszaid, J.D. ’19. “There hasn’t been a day when I’ve questioned my choice.”
That seems to be the case with hundreds of students who have signed up for entertainment law courses and clinics at Harvard Law School (HLS) over the past 20 years. The phenomenon underscores a trend among law students to veer from the conventional paths of corporate law or litigation and look to work in creative industries. The trend, also noticeable at other law schools around the country, has spurred growth in the niche field of entertainment law.
These students are driven by a passion for music, the arts, and showbiz, said HLS Clinical Professor of Law Brian Price, who supervises the Entertainment Law Clinic.
“It’s an exciting career for a music lover,” said Price at his office, where a wall is covered by a corkboard neatly filled with business cards from agents, managers, artists, and alumni.
Although entertainment attorneys work behind the scenes, they can have a bigger influence on artists’ careers than agents or managers, said Price. They review artists’ agreements, publishing deals, endorsements, and licensing and merchandising contracts, making sure their clients’ interests are protected. In the end, beneath the glitz, it’s all about business.
“Artists are becoming savvier and want to be involved in the business aspects of their careers,” said Price. “When they ask for legal advice, they want to know their legal rights, and how to make good deals and find ways to make more money.”
In 1998, Price founded the Recording Artists Project (RAP), a student-run group that provides legal assistance to budding artists, prompted by two students who told him of their longing to work in the music industry. Price is faculty adviser for the group.
Most HLS graduates end up working in business or corporate law, though some alumni have had successful careers in the entertainment industry. Among them are Bruce Ramer ’58, who represents clients like George Clooney and Clint Eastwood; Bert Fields ’52, who represented Michael Jackson; and legendary music lawyer Clive Davis ’56, who signed many luminaries like Whitney Houston, and boasts his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Donald Passman, J.D. ’70, has represented celebrities like Janet Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Pink and wrote the bestseller “All You Need to Know About the Music Business”; and Aaron Rosenberg, J.D. ’02, counts John Legend, Jennifer Lopez, and Justin Bieber among his clients.
For future entertainment lawyers, the goal is often to find a job in Hollywood and experience the glamour and thrill of working with artists, but streaming and other technological changes have added new career options in entertainment law.
Take Kike Aluko, J.D. ’19, who will move to Atlanta to join the national law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP, and work on music licensing deals, trademark protection, and artist representation. Aluko, who interned at a record label in the mid-2000s, is struck by the recent changes in the industry.
“It has grown a lot and is more diverse than a decade ago when there was no streaming or Spotify,” she said. “There are so many different avenues for people to pursue their passion rather than going to a record label.”
Kirkland Alexander Lynch, J.D. ’14, works as a business affairs strategist for Wonder’s organization, Steveland Morris Productions. He oversees the legal aspects of anything related to shows and business deals, and travels around the world with the organization.
It is a dream job for Lynch, who abandoned his plans to work in finance after being inspired by a classmate who wanted to become a sports lawyer. “He made me think that I should pursue my true passion, which was music,” said Lynch from Los Angeles, where he has launched his own media management and consulting company. “And I saw a path for me when I interned at Sony Music Entertainment in New York during my second year at the Law School.”
But it was at RAP that he started learning the ropes of entertainment law, helping a rapper from Dorchester and an indie group based in Union Square with partnerships and band agreements.
As members of RAP, students draft, review, and negotiate recording contracts and artists’ and managers’ agreements for musicians and other entertainers. One of the group’s most famous clients is renowned jazz bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, now a professor of the practice in Harvard’s Music Department, who was counseled on the negotiation of her first record deal.
Breaking into the music and entertainment worlds is hard, but HLS’s strong alumni network helps young attorneys build connections that pay off. That happened to Ethan Schiffres, J.D. ’10, who reached out to Passman, whose firm is Gang, Tyre, Ramer, Brown & Passman Inc., and kept in touch with him. When Schiffres graduated, he was offered a job as a music associate. Today he’s a partner at the firm, where he reviews legal contracts for endorsements, touring, publishing deals, and trademark litigation.
Schiffres credits the Entertainment Law Clinic with providing hands-on experience and contacts with alumni willing to help the younger generation of lawyers. His biggest piece of advice is to network.
“Entertainment law is sexier than corporate law,” he said, “but it also involves hard work, passion for music and entertainment, but it really is about networking.”
“Connections are everything,” she said. “It takes a lot to muster the courage to reach [out] to somebody you don’t know, but it’s worth it.”
As the president of RAP, Rechtszaid wrote emails to the manager of Chance the Rapper and Passman last year asking them to visit Harvard to talk to HLS students. They both came.
Rechtszaid’s dream clients are Lady Gaga, the indie rock band Dorothy, and the Bronx hip-hop artist and Instagram personality Cardi B. “Cardi B is so talented and funny,” Rechtszaid said. “I want to be her best friend.”